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Patients With Online Access Increase In-Person Visits to Doctor

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A study published in the Nov. 21 issue of The Journal of the American Medical Association found that  patients who had online access to their physicians and other health care professionals increased their use of in-person and telephone clinical services.8

Online access included communicating with physicians through e-mails and the authors wrote, “The presumption is if patients could look up health information such as their test results, request prescription refills, schedule appointments, and send secure e-mail to clinicians, then their use of clinical in-person and telephone calls may decrease.”

The findings were not what the authors were expecting, in fact they were the complete opposite.  They came up with a few hypotheses to support their findings.  Palen, the physician manager for clinical reporting at the Institute for Health Research at the Colorado Permanente Medical Group in Denver, said the team already had developed several hypotheses for further investigation.   “One is that perhaps patients with online access may be more engaged in their health care and therefore use more clinical services initially. We want to see if that leads to better health outcomes for these patients down the road.” Eventually, that scenario could mean a diminishing need for in-person clinical services by some patients.

The authors also considered that perhaps online users had more severe illnesses and therefore required more clinical care. Lastly, “Another hypothesis that deserves investigation is that perhaps those who signed up for the patient portal did so because they anticipated the need for more clinical care,” said Palen.

The authors Study authors called for further investigation to explain why access to patient portals would increase patient use of clinical services.